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27. Wenjun Melody 1 /A Phoenix Seeks his Mate 2 文君操/鳳求凰
- In Shang mode section3 standard tuning played as 1 2 4 5 6 1 2 ) Wenjun Cao / Feng Qiu Huang
  Seduction at the east wall 4    
The seduction of
Zhuo Wenjun by the famous poet Sima Xiangru (179-113 BCE) is one of China's best known love stories. Connected to this story are two particularly well-known sets of lyrics:

  1. Those attributed to Sima Xiangru himself ("鳳兮鳳兮歸古鄉.... The phoenix has returned home...."); used in 1525. 5
  2. The anonymous lyrics ("有美人兮.... There is a beautiful lady...."); used here and in all later handbooks. 6

Both sets of lyrics can be found within the existing qin repertoire, but whereas the earliest surviving melody connected to this story is the largely instrumental setting only from 1525 that uses the former lyrics in two of its 10 sections, the settings in this 1539 handbook as well as in all later handbooks are purely as a qin song set specifically to the latter lyrics. Perhaps it is because the seduction itself is retold in other media, opera in particular, and opera versions generally use the latter lyrics.7

The seduction story itself can be found in Shi Ji 117, the biography of Sima Xiangru, from Chengdu in modern Sichuan province. It concerns the then-impoverished poet and the widow Zhuo Wenjun (or Wen Jun), daughter of Zhuo Wangsun, a wealthy man of Linqiong, a town south of Chengdu.8 One day during a social event in the wealthy man's home Xiangru played the qin, expressing himself through this playing9 as much as through the actual lyrics. Hearing this from the next room, Wenjun fell in love. The two eloped, living for a while in poverty at Sima Xiangru's home in Chengdu, but then returning to Qionglai, where Wenjun felt their relatives might help support them. They then opened a wineshop in Qionglai and ran that until her father finally forgave them and gave them money. They then bought a mansion in Chengdu and lived there until Sima Xiangru was summoned to the capital, Chang'an, where they lived the rest of their lives.10 The Shi Ji account seems to suggest they lived happily ever after.11

As mentioned, the earliest surviving version of the qin song using the later lyrics is the one here in Fengxuan Xuanpin (1539). Is it named Wenjun Cao to distinguish it from the earlier Feng Qiu Huang? In any case, all later songs with the 1539 lyrics use the title Feng Qiu Huang (though two have the slightly different "Wen Feng Qiu Huang" 12) and always attribute them to Sima Xiangru. Specifically, the 12 surviving settings from 1596 to 1931 (1878 is missing?) seem to include repeats or adaptations of these three earlier setting plus at least three more melodies, each different, but all with almost the same lyrics and the same basic pairing method.

Here is a summary of the different versions (see also the appendix):14

  1. This 1539 version; it is the only one called Wen Jun Cao (transcription and recording); melody only here.
  2. The 1573/1585; versions of this one seem to occur in five later handbooks to 1884 (my recording follows my transcription); later versions are in 1596, 1618, 1828, 1844 and 1884.
  3. The 1589/1609 setting, related to ones in at least 6 later handbooks to 1931, which is the Mei'an School version played today (though its tuning gives it separate mention); melody also in 1611, 1802, 1825 and 1894 as well as 1931
    my transcription from 1589 is of me playing (but not singing).
  4. The 1663 setting; only here (pu and transcription; listen [not sung]).
  5. The 1709 setting; only here; called "Wen Feng Qiu Huang" (transcription; listen [not sung]).
  6. The 1828 setting (pu), also called "Wen Feng Qiu Huang", has two verses like 1585 but adds a third verse that is only here but has a melody quite similar to that of Section 10 of the 1525 Xing Tan (see transcription and comment; listen [but not sung]).
  7. The 1931 Mei'an version, related to 1589 above but with lowered third string tuning; see transcription and listen to it as played and sung by 王吉儒 Wang Jiru.

The lyrics accompanying the present melody can also be heard in the opera Story of the Western Wing, by Yuan dynasty dramatist Wang Shifu.15 Here Scholar Zhang uses them to seduce Yingying (see illustration above and comments on Xi Xiang Ji). This story can be traced back to Yingying Zhuan, a Tang dynasty short story by Yuan Zhen (799-831),16 where it is Yingying playing the qin. She at one stage mentions the Sima Xiangru story, but there are no song lyrics or even mention of a seduction song. A close approximation of the lyrics used here seems to survive first from the earliest known complete zhugongdiao,17 called Xixiang Ji Zhugongdiao, dating from the 12th century. Although these lyrics are also attributed to Sima Xiangru, I don't know of any earlier occurrence than this.

Note that for reconstructing (see dapu) these melodies the tablature gives great detail about the playing method but does not directly indicate note values. An underlying aim in my reconstructing the melodies here has been to see to what extent the similar lyrics could lead to similar rhythms for the differing melodies. Hence, for example, almost all phrases in these interpretations begin on an upbeat. To hear how starting on the downbeat might sound, listen to the second part of the arrangement of the 1539 Feng Qiu Huang melody I have made under the title Love Birds.

Note also that although to a certain extent the lyrics can provide guidance (or inspirtation, anyway), there is little information available about singing technique/voice production.18

Original preface


Music and Lyrics
Two sections (untitled). The lyrics are as follows
19 (see transcriptions, hear recordings 看五線譜、聽錄音)

There is a beautiful woman, ah;
(I) saw her (and can) not forget (her).
(If the) whole day (I) don't see (her), ah;
thinking of her leads to madness.
(I'm like the) male phoenix flying, soaring and roaming, ah;
(over) four seas searching for (my) female phoenix.
(But) unfortunately (that) beautiful woman, ah,
(is) not at this eastern wall;

Taking up the qin as a substitute for words, ah;
(I) intend to unburden myself of ("write") these true feelings.
On what day (will I) see (your) acceptance (of a betrothal), ah;
(and) relieve my restless anxiety?
A willing word (will bring) union (with one of her) virtue, ah;
hand in hand to each other (we'd be ) joined.
(But since we are ) not able to go flying (i.e., get married), ah;
(it) cases me this depression (and) ruination.

Coda (in harmonics; these lyrics are not in the original poem20)
I think that in life people are seldom together, often apart.

Return to the annotated handbook list or to the Guqin ToC.

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. 文君操 Wenjun Cao (QQJC II/149)
13766.164 文君 Wen Jun has several people with this name, including Wen Wang as well as 卓文君 Zhuo Wenjun herself; .165 文君新寡 Wenjun Newly Widowed and .166 文君當壚 Wenjun in a Wine Shop give references from the biography of Sima Xiangru in Shi Ji. Seng's list, most ancient section, includes a 文君弄 Wenjun Nong. For surviving qin versions see the chart below.

2. A Phoenix Seeks his Mate (商調 Feng Qiu Huang)
For references see under Feng Qiu Huang. Other translations include the more specific A Male Phoenix Searches for his Mate and the more allusive A Love Story.

Compare 凰求鳳 Huang Qiu Feng: A Phoenix Seeks her Mate
1816.1 "劇曲名,清李漁選,一名鴛鴦賺,為李十種曲之一。 The name of a chuanqi opera selected by
Li Yu (1610—1680), also called Mandarin Duck Deceit, it was one of Li's 10 Chuanqi Dramas" (elsewhere called 笠翁傳奇十种). Completed in 1665 it is described as "寡婦設計贅新郎, 眾美齊心 奪才子 A Widow Plans to Install a Groom, a Bevy of Beauties Unite to Sieze the Talented Beau" (Lenore J. Szekely, Playing for Profit, p.10 [deepblue.lib.umich.edu]).

3. Shang mode (商調 shang diao)? (Standard tuning 5 6 1 2 3 5 6 played as 1 2 4 5 6 1 2)
For my understanding of mode in early qin music see Modality in Early Ming Qin Tablature. In line with this, here I refer to the note "1" as "C", and transcribe it as such, but it is actually the relative pitch "1" in modern Chinese number notation or "do" in Western solfeggio.

Also in line with this, all known versions of Feng Qiu Huang beginning with the present one dated 1539 use standard tuning, but not all have the same mode. Mode is based on primary and secondary tonal centers as well as tuning, and according to this the 1539 version has the equivalent note to the open first string as its primary tonal center. If the relative tuninng were 5 6 1 2 3 5 6 this would make this a zhi mode melody, but with 1 2 4 5 6 1 2 as the relative tuning, do is its primary tonal center and sol its secondary tonal center. This makes it closest to shang mode. However, in shang mode the note "2" ("re", or "shang" in the Chinese system, is usually more significant than it is here.

By contrast most of the later surviving Feng Qiu Huang melodies fit best in zhi mode. These seem generally to have 5 (sol as their primary tonal center, transcribed here as G), even when their mode is said to be yu. For further information on shang and zhi modes see Shenpin Shang Yi and Shenpin Zhi Yi

Here it is worthy of note that although the tuning 1 2 4 5 6 1 2 has 4 (the non-pentatonic note fa) for the open third string, melodies with this tuning generally avoid the open third string and fa in general. True to this, in 1539 the open third string is avoided and fa is never played, and this is also largely true of the 1573/1585 version and its successors (though see the last line of 1585).

In constrast, however, the version dated 1589 does use fa as a significant note and this seems to be true also true of its successors - until the 1931 Meian version. Here, apparently in order to avoid such an "impure" note, the tuning has been changed to 1 2 3 5 6 1 2 and thus the open third string can be played; meanwhile the other occurrences of fa are also changed, usually to mi (3).

4. Illustration:b Seduction at the east wall
This illustration of the famous seduction scene from 西廂記 Xi Xiang Ji is from 張國標 Zhang Guobiao, ed., 徽派版畫藝術 Art of Woodcut of the Huizhou School, 安徽省美術出版社 Anhui Publishing House, 1995, p.117 ("西廂五本:崔鶯鶯夜聽琴").

The significance of the wall being eastern is not clear (東墻 dong qiang 14827.xxx). Is it significant that the renowned playwright 白仁甫 Bai Renfu (白朴 Bai Pu, c.1226−1306) wrote an opera called Romance of the Eastern Wall (董秀英花月東牆記 Dong Xiuying Huayue Dongqiang Ji)? In it, as the scholar Ma Wenfu plays his qin to dispel his lovesickness the subject of his devotion, Dong Xiuying, "listens to his music from the other side of the wall; as she burns incense in the garden she grows emotional and recites a love poem dedicated to the young man, who responds with another love poem." (Yang Xiao [浙江大學], Materializing Desire in Two Literary Traditions; p.242 [a chapter in Jones and Leahy, Pornographic Sensibilities, 2021]).

5. Earliest setting of Sima Xiangru's love song
The lyrics of this version can be found in 樂府詩集 Yuefu Shiji, 琴曲歌詞 Qin Song Lyrics, p.881. They begin (see complete),

Feng xi, Feng xi, gui gu xiang, aoyou sihai qiu qi huang...
This male phoenix has returned to his old home, after roaming the four seas looking for a mate...."
In contrast, the lyrics that begin "There is a beautiful woman...." found here can quite likely be traced only to Song dynasty publications: I haven't seen anything which gives a reasonable expectation of finding an earlier source.

6. Settings of "There is a beautiful woman" (有美人兮 You mei ren xi)
Zha Fuxi's Guide has two entries, 15/161/353 (文君操 Wenjun Cao) and 22/196/- (鳳求凰 Feng Qiu Huang); the latter includes only the lengthy melody published in 1525 (which uses the other lyrics). The former has the short melodies, all of which use the present lyrics, though sometimes also with variations, particularly in the various codas. After the present version, called Wenjun Cao, they are all called Feng Qiu Huang. There are more details in the Appendix

7. Opera renditions of Sima Xiangru's seduction of Zhuo Wenjun
In addition to the use of these lyrics for the opera Xixiang Ji, there are operas that tell the story directly, including one called Feng Qiu Huang. LXS discusses at least two:

  1. Zhuo Wenjun, attributed to Zhu Quan (LX/160)
  2. Feng Qiu Huang, a Ming chuanqi attributed to 陳玉蟾 Chen Yuchan (LXS/354).

However, I have not done a thorough search of the lyrics in the various operas, so what I have written above about this is quite tentative.

Qin reference to opera story
At least some of these operas, in apparent contrast to the story in the Shi Ji
below, say that the couple remained poor until Sima Xiangru left for the capital to make his fortune. According to this story Sima Xiangru inscribed a vow on the bridge from which he left the city. It said that he would not return until he had found this success, at which point he would return in grandeur, which he did. The coda for the Feng Qiu Huang melody published in 1589 include lyrics to this effect, as follows:

琴挑鳳得凰,   By qin play the phoenix got his mate,
題橋志氣昂,   then inscribed on a bridge his lofty aims,
千古性名揚。   for thousands of (years?) this ancient name will be spread (i.e., 名揚四海 all over).

Online opera versions
Online there have been modern renditions of this story, using various titles. For example, as of February 2012 YouTube has several scenes from what is said to be a Yueju Opera called Sima Xiangru and Zhuo Wenjun. This scene opens with Sima Xiangru (in Yueju all actors are female) "playing" a qin at a party; the actual music is guzheng with ensemble. Later one can see Wenjun pretending to play the same qin. A subtitle says, "Blood sisters are lovers on stage", but, based the summary with the DVD version from which the YouTube clips were apparently made, this is a minor sub-plot.

8. 臨邛 Linqiong
About 50 km southwest of Chengdu, it is today called 邛崍 Qionglai (see more details).

9. Expressing oneself on the qin: 琴心 Qin xin
The Shi Ji story says Sima Xiangru "以琴心挑之 used the qin to express his emotions," with no mention of lyrics. See more in a footnote to his biography page.

10. Stories of Sima Xiangru and Zhuo Wenjun
Shi Ji adds to the story as given here that when Zhuo Wangsun reconciled with his daughter he gave the couple 100 servants, 1,000,000 in cash plus everything he had already given her for her previous dowry; they then set up very comfortably at a mansion in Chengdu. Later Sima Xiangru was called to Chang An, where he became a palace attendant. His Shi Ji biography also tells of his writing the fu 子虛賦 Sir Fantasy, which it includes; his assisting the emperor on matters relating to Shu and Ba (including indigenous nationalities in Sichuan); being dismissed after accusations of accepting bribes, then later reinstated; stuttering and having diabetes; admonishing the emperor on his hunting practices; writing a fu called The Mighty One (included); after death leaving behind a manuscript dealing with imperial sacrices (also included).

11. YFSJ p.599 has a White Hair Intonation (白頭吟 Baitou Yin). The story behind it is that when Wenjun's hair was turning gray Sima Xiangru was going to leave Wenjun for a younger woman, but he changed his mind after Wenjun wrote Baitou Yin reminding him of the pledges they had made to each other.

12. 文鳳求凰 Wen Feng Qiu Huang
13766.xxx. The significance of this title is unclear. "Literary version of A Phoenix Seeks his Mate"? "文君 Wenjun lyrics version"? The 1709 version has a new melody but no coda with extra lyrics whereas the 1828 version has a melody related to 1585 but the same basic lyrics plus an extended coda with new lyrics.

14. 文君操、鳳求凰、文鳳求凰:七個錄音 (Seven recordings)
前六首我彈自己的打譜 For the first six I play my own reconstructions. Separate pdf. Direct links:

  1. 風宣玄品         Fengxuan Xuanpin (1539): 錄音 recording / 五線譜 transcription
  2. 重修真傳琴譜 Chongxiu Zhenchuan Qinpu (1573/1585): 錄音 recording / 五線譜 transcription
  3. 真傳正宗琴譜 Zhenchuan Zhengzong Qinpu (1589): 錄音 recording / 五線譜 transcripton
  4. 臣卉堂琴譜     Chenbentang Qinpu (1663): 錄音 recording / 五線譜 transcription
  5. 一峰園琴譜     Yifengyuan Qinpu (1709): 錄音 recording / 五線譜 transcription ("文鳳求凰 Wen Feng Qiu Huang")
  6. 琴學軔端         Qinxue Renduan (1828; 尾聲 coda): 尾聲錄音 recording of coda / 五線譜 transcription
  7. 梅庵琴譜         Mei'an Qinpu (1931): 王吉儒彈、唱 played and sung by Wang Jiru / 五線譜 transcription

Details above.

15. Story of the Western Wing
西廂記 Xixiang Ji, by 王實甫 Wang Shifu. For the passage in which Student Zhang plays qin and sings these lyrics see page 272 of the translation by West and Idema, The Moon and the Zither, University of California Press, 1991.

16. 鶯鶯傳 Yingying Zhuan, by 元稹 Yuan Zhen.

17. 諸宮調 zhugong diao, a type of narrative tale

18. Singing style
There is some further comment on this here.

19. Lyrics of 文君操 Wenjun Cao
The original lyrics of this poem, attributed to Sima Xiangru, are as follows:

有美人兮    見之不忘。



20. Such lyrics can also be found in the lyrics of other melodies. See see appendix below for variations within the present lyrics.

Chart Tracing 文君操 Wenjun Cao / 鳳求凰 Feng Qiu Huang

Only 1539 uses the title "Wenjun Cao"; all have lyrics unless otherwise indicated
Linked transcriptions and recordings are all my own unless otherwise indicated

    Chinese Title
    (date; location)
Commentary, including:
# of sections; L=lyrics?, mode (based largely on Zha guide 15/161/353 [文君操] and 22/196/-- [鳳求凰])
1. 西麓堂琴統
    (1525; III/264)
Feng Qiu Huang (this melody only here though all versions after #2 use this title;
transcription and recording);
10 (3 & 8 L); 4561235; it is the only melody using the lyrics 鳳兮鳳兮歸古鄉....);
2. 風宣玄品 (.jpg)
    (1539; II/149)
Wenjun Cao (only one with this title, though see 1709 and 1828); this melody only here; no commentary; transcription and recordings
1; 商調 shang mode (1245612: do-sol with re not significant); two undivided verses (有美人兮,見之不忘...), repeats last phrase of each verse and adds coda (想人生會少離多)
3. 對音捷要 (.jpg)
    (1573; facsimile)
Lyrics as 1539 but new melody with no repeats and no coda; 張 becomes 將; 微 becomes 衷; omit 得; transcription and recording
1; 5612356; grouped with yu mode, but most phrases (including last) end on zhi (5; sol), so mode is like zhi
  . 重脩真傳琴譜 (.jpg)
    (1585; IV/471)
Basically same as 1573 but less ornamentation (for transcription and recording refer to previous);
1; QQJC copy unclear but see facsimile; versions of this melody occur in 1573, here, 1596, 1618 , 1828, 1844 and 1884
5. 真傳正宗琴譜 (.jpg)
    (1589/1609; VII/115)
Lyrics as 1539, but another new melody, repeats last phrase and adds new coda (see Sima Xiangru's vow on a bridge); transcription and recording
1; Zhi yin (5612356); preface; versions of this melody also in 1611, 1802, 1815 and 1894 ("shang yin") as well as 1931
4. 文會堂琴譜 (.jpg)
    (1596; VI/203)
almost same as 1585, with few notes changed, but:
now grouped with shang mode melodies though last note is still zhi (sol)
6. 陽春堂琴譜 (.jpg)
    (1611; VII/465)

identical to 1589-1609

7. 理性元雅 (.jpg)
    (1618; VIII/254)
1; still very similar to 1585, though some ornaments added (e.g., with 攜手); however mode is stated as:
"yu mode"! Modality like others from 1585 until the last note suddenly changes to la, i.e. yu!
8. 臣卉堂琴譜 (.jpg)
    (1663; XI/136)
1; both verses but still undivided; no repeats and no coda; another new melody (transcription; listen [not sung]);
yu mode for real: cadences on yu and jue (la-mi) as well as ending on yu.
9. 一峰園琴譜 (.jpg)
    (1709; XIII/512)
1; "文鳳求凰 Wen Feng Qiu Huang"; repeats last phrase but no coda; another new melody; small changes in lyrics; verses still undivided (transcription; listen [not sung]).
ToC says 羽音 yu mode but seems like shang: tuning is naturally 1245612 with tonal center gong (do) and with shang (2; re/D) also important
10. 自遠堂琴譜 (.jpg)
    (1802; XVII/526)
1; both verses plus coda all run together;
Zhi mode; music, lyrics and coda all like 1589-1609
11. 峰抱樓琴譜 (.jpg)
    (1825; XX/331)
1; zhi mode; like 1589-1609 but without lyrics;
No divisions  
12. 琴學軔端 (.jpg)
    (1828; XX/457)
3; "文鳳求凰 Wen Feng Qiu Huang" but melody related to 1585, not 1709; first version to divide the sections; QQJC copy very hard to read;
Section 1 and 2 lyrics as before but adds a long coda with a melody as in Section 10 of the 1525 Xing Tan (pdf of coda; comment; listen [but not sung]). Its lyrics are as folllows:
("掃室焚香對碧空,欲將心事囑絲桐。 欲酧錦帳三生願,全仗冰絃一奏功。
   遊客不來照月下,佳人倚在粉牆東。 清聲好付風飄去,吹入知音兩耳中。")
Mode should be stated in ToC at XX/433, but that page is missing; tuning seems to be 1245612; first two verses end on 5, third on 1.
13. 張鞠田琴譜 (.jpg)
    (1844; XXIII/261)
1; no coda; jue diao, zhi yin; includes gongche pu
Related to 1585, but first section ends at "四海求凰" (i.e., where harmonics end)
First of its 14 (of 25) melodies not from opera
14. 希韶閣琴譜
    (1878; XXVI/xxx)
?; called only "求凰 Qiu Huang"; lyrics?; zhi yin;
It was in the continuation volume, missing here (see in ToC at XXVI/275-6, lower left quadrant)
15. 雙琴書屋琴譜集成 (.jpg)
    (1884; XXVII/276)
1; both verses again undivided but ends "...使我悲傷"; no coda;
Melody seems related to 1585
16. 琴學初津 (.jpg)
    (1894; XXVIII/262)
1; 黃鐘鈞,商音; Huangzong jun, shang yin; like 1589-1609, with both verses plus the new coda;
Afterword: from 1802, "corrected", the three phrases at end were added later as a tribute so are kept.
17. 梅庵琴譜 (.jpg);
    (1931; XXIX/204)
1; 林鐘調 Linzhong Diao; both verses, undivided and no coda; melody still very much like 1589 but tuning changed to 1 2 3 5 6 1 2 presumably to delete non-pentatonic notes.
This transcription is of 王吉儒 Wang Jiru playing and singing from 1931.
This transcription from GQQJ Vol. 1 #2 is of Li Xiangting playing this basic melody with standard tuning but completely different fingering and no lyrics.
18. 研易習琴齋琴譜
    (1961; III,#3)
1; both verses undivided; l3ike 1931
19. Unpublished
A new arrangement